Here are some circumstances under which The Boy Next Door would be advisable viewing:
1. Drunk, alone, and you’ve given up.
2. Drunk, with friends, hooting and hollering at how thunderingly stupid it is.
3. At a drive-in – drunk or sober – with someone you love who can distract you.
4. Drunk in one of those fancy VIP auditoriums because you can’t set money ablaze fast enough.
5. You know what, how about you just don’t?
Okay, I’m being flip. Admittedly, the latest film from trashterpiece auteur Rob Cohen (Stealth, Alex Cross, XXX, Fast and the Furious) and low-budget producer Jason Blum is so hilariously dunderheaded that I can’t really be mad at it. It is so bad that it loops back on itself and becomes an almost inspired form of comedy, full of terrible direction, terrible performances, and one of the most idiotic plots committed to the page in years. I would never recommend it in a trillion years for anyone who wants to see a good or original film. However, I will go on record saying that I had infinitely more fun watching how terrible this is than how terrible something like Taken 3 is. Or maybe this week is so packed with awfulness I’m feeling charitable towards anything that even remotely makes me grin or chuckle.
Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is a high school or college level literary classics professor (seriously, the film never makes this point clear) with a fledgling marriage. Her ex (John Corbett) has moved out after being caught cheating, but he wants to make amends by spending more time with her and their often bullied, kind of nerdy, allergy prone teenage son (Ian Nelson). She’s not convinced, but she clearly wants to feel loved and sexy in the way her husband felt with the woman he slept with. She catches the eye of Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), a twenty year old hottie who has moved next door to take care of his invalid uncle. He likes her, too, at one point forcing himself upon her and insisting that everything will go back to normal after they hook up. They go along with it, but she feels bad after a sex scene that’s Joe Eszterhas levels of hilarious. Noah wants their love to last forever, and he shows his dark side by going to any means necessary to bully her into spending a lifetime with him.
Rob Cohen is a master of utilizing every tool in the hack director playbook, from cats jumping out to scare people to some of the most hilariously on the nose ominous musical cues. I have given up hope that Cohen will ever turn in a good movie again. His movies are always corny, throwaway bits of entertainment that are never good, but are at least amusing in their daftness.
What’s most shocking is that this marks the screenwriting debut of Barbara Curry, a former Los Angeles assistant U.S. attorney. She worked on the Major Crimes Unit. She inspected mob hits, racketeering, kidnappings, major heists, basically the worst of the worst crimes. So if anyone could have created a credible film about an unhinged psychopath blackmailing someone into loving them, it would be her. And yet, this connection seems unfathomable because it’s the kind of film where people are too stupid to call the police even after the person in question has committed numerous assaults.
To believe in this lukewarm, gender swapped rehash of the James Foley/Mark Wahlberg vehicle Fear would require a full on lobotomy on the part of the viewer. It can’t even get minor, seemingly inconsequential details right, as evidenced by an uproariously anachronistic bit of dialogue when Noah presents Claire with what she – A FUCKING CLASSICS PROFESSOR – thinks is a first edition copy of her favourite book, The Iliad. It also has no clue how computers, garage doors, vice grips, the clutch on an automobile, simple physics, printers, tape, hidden cameras, bone marrow transplants, or cultural references work. Almost everything it attempts it screws up. It would have a perfect 100% except for a scene where someone off screen correctly tells a character how to use an epipen. If one life is saved in the future from this film and that one scene, it will all be worth it.
Lopez has a pretty simple job: make sure you don’t want to see her die. She does the bare minimum well. Guzman appropriately makes a buffet out of all of the scenery he comes in contact with, edging dangerously close to Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy territory. He’s fun to watch, but also exhausting in his potency and the character’s goofball plans. Kristin Chenoweth, however, walks off with the whole damn show as Claire’s boss and sympathetic best friend. She knows to camp things up a bit. She and Guzman understand damn well they’re in a Rob Cohen film.
By the time the film’s literal barn-burning finale rolls around, The Boy Next Door has at the very least not overstayed its welcome. It gets in and out in 90 tacky minutes and never attempts to force anything else down the audience’s throats. I wondered long and hard if this would be the kind of film I could have fun with if I was drunk enough, and I’m pretty sure if there were other people around in the same inebriated state it would be a fun sit through a bad film. It was just bad enough to feel that my time wasn’t wasted. It was more laughs than I had at the movies this week. That’s in no way an endorsement.